28 September 2012

Pear clafouti

We ate the last slices after dinner yesterday and I was surprised how delicious it was even four days later.  Fall wouldn't be fall without apples and pears.  And as much as I like apple pie, it's a bit of a job to make one -- not something I do on the spur of the moment (unlike my amazing-pie-making friend Di).  I can, however, whip up a clafouti in only a few minutes.  Simple but delicious and a great way to show off and enjoy the pears of fall. 

Fresh, beautiful pears are available in about every market these days.  I used Bartletts because that's what I had, and they were perfectly ripe and in need of eating.  But Conference, Concord, Anjou, Bosc . . . they'd all be wonderful.  My favorite recipe is from Barefoot in Paris by Ina Garten.  The batter beats up thicker and rises a bit higher than others I've tried.  The brandy gives it an amazing flavor and fragrance. And there's something to it after it falls.

Clafouti eating would be a good activity for the last weekend of September if you ask me.

27 September 2012

Crème fraîche

We do pancakes on the weekend and we eat whatever fruit is in season on top.  We've had a lot of blueberries, blackberries, and peaches on our pancakes this summer. Just recently, on the final weekend of summer, we topped them with mixed late-season raspberries and crème fraîche.   All I can say is it's a good thing I didn't think of topping my pancakes like this at the beginning of the summer.  It's not a low fat choice.  But it is fabulous.

I make my own crème fraîche, which is a French-style cultured heavy cream.  A little goes a long way and yes, it's not something you should really eat a lot of if you're trying to keep the fat in your diet to a minimum . . . but don't let that stop you.  It's easy to make, super versatile, and a great ingredient to have around.  The recipe doesn't make a super large quantity, and it keeps well so you don't need to use it up immediately.  If you haven't made it before, I encourage you to give it a try.

How to use it? It's a lovey addition to a special breakfast -- on pancakes or mixed with fresh herbs and dolloped on an omelet.  I also like to add a dollop to a bowl of curried lentils or bean soup.  And I stir it into one of my favorite fall dishes, Poulet à la Fermière, which is a braised vegetable dish, for an instant sauce (the high fat content prevents curdling when used at high temps).  Oh, and the holidays are coming.  I'm certain you can find a use for it on your Thanksgiving table . . . baked leeks . . . pumpkin cheesecake . . . the list is endless.

Crème Fraîche
makes about a pint

2 cups organic heavy cream (homogenized works best)
4 tablespoons cultured buttermilk

Warm the cream slowly in a saucepan over medium-high heat to 85 or 90 degrees (use a candy thermometer in the cream to monitor it).  Transfer the hot cream to a glass container and stir in the buttermilk using a clean metal spoon.  Stir until the buttermilk with well incorporated.  Cover the container with a lid or plate and leave it at room temperature for 12 hours.  Store in an airtight container in the fridge.  Keeps for two weeks or so.

I use a LeParfait clamp jar for my crème fraîche, and I've let it culture for up to 17 hours without any problem.

23 September 2012

Finishing and starting again

My summer garden is finishing up.  The last of the beans are plumping, peppers are going strong, and the tomatoes are turning red.  Even the fall strawberries are slowing down their production (or maybe Wyatt is just keeping up with them now . . . ).  My sunflowers have lost their petals and are ripening their seeds.  Yesterday was the fall equinox.

The end of the growing season is usually this is a melancholy time of year for me.  I feel like summer takes so long to arrive here in the Northwest, then rushes away.  Despite the many warm and sunny days that we have enjoyed this year, it never feels like enough.

But there is something in the garden that's boosting my spirits this September.  New plants.  Yes, I'm trying my hand at some fall and winter gardening again.  Last time didn't go so well, I know.  But I'm not a quitter.  Plus, I signed on as a member for the winter session of Edible Landscapes community supported plant starts and ended up with a generous flat of healthy little plants that I picked up last weekend.  After reworking and amending the hardworking soil in my raised beds, I planted:
  • Red Russian kale
  • Lacinato kale
  • Spinach, Emu and Space
  • Lettuce, Australian Yellow Leaf and Galactic
  • Endive, Eros
  • Red-vein sorrel
  • Snow Crown cauliflower
  • Purple Sprouting broccoli
  • Red Beard bunching onions
Some of the plants will mature before winter.  Others will overwinter and produce in the spring, like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and onions.  This is going to be fun!

22 September 2012

Beans in a jar and other things to look forward to

Dilled beans
After the cukes came dilly beans. Every time I preserve green beans, I underestimated just how many, many beans will fit into a quart jar and how long it takes to pack those green beans tightly into that jar.  Two hours of tightly packing and I had four quarts.  Argh.  Of course, crunchy, tangy, dilled beans will taste great with one of our fall cheese plates or on the Thanksgiving table.  If you're looking for a recipe, I like this one a lot and have made it in past years with great success.  This year, just for variety, I tried a recipe from Chefs on the Farm from the Quillisascut School of the Domestic Arts, which looked delicious.  I'll let you know how they turn out, but I can't imagine they will be anything but delicious given the dill, garlic, and red pepper tucked in the jars.

Brandied sweet cherries
All I'm saying is that the leftover partial jar of those little jewels that sits in the fridge is getting better by the day . . . and slowly disappearing.  The ones tucked away in the pantry to age a bit will make nice holiday gifts for those who have been very, very good.  In the meantime, I think Byron is perfecting his side car.

Summer squash
The question for me is always what to do with it.  A person can only eat so much of it sliced thinly in a sandwhich or added to a quiche or casserole.  Then what to do with the remaining 10 pounds?  God forbid you grow several plants.  This year I didn't grow even one. Apparently, however, the farm that sends us our csa share grew a lot of it.  We received several pounds, more than once.  Relying on the good ideas I continuously find in the aforementioned book on preserving, Canning for a New Generation, I made some Hot Cumin Summer Squash Pickles.  The ones I've tasted so far are sharp and hot and crunchy.  Almost better than fresh!

Peach Preserves
The universe heard my plea for peaches, and I ended up eating my way through three boxes in the course of a couple weeks.  I enjoyed every bite of every peach . . .  and the many cobblers, smoothies, and bowls of ice cream smothered in peaches that I consumed.  I even managed to turn about eight pounds of them into chunky peach preserves.  Because I ran out of jam jars, we will be enjoying and sharing pints of the stuff this winter.  Woot!

Peaches and a bouquet of African black basil.

Blackberry Plum Jam
During the peach marathon I had a flat of blackberries and about six pounds of Santa Rosa plums that needed using up.  Needless to say I had other things to eat, so into jam they went.  I added Gravenstein apple (in cheese cloth) to both jams (peach and this one), which thickened them perfectly.  A trick I hadn't tried before.  This jam is a beautiful color and has a brightness in flavor that plain blackberry jam doesn't quite have.  I like the combination a lot.  Perhaps I'll have to try it as filling in some holiday cookies this year -- the jewel-like quality of the jam would be awfully pretty.

More Tomatoes?
I already posted about how Wyatt and I quickly dispatched 25 pounds of them, but I sense that I will soon have a new crop off my home-grown plants.  I grew three determinate varieties this year -- a Roma, a Russian Black Krim, and a Pruden's Purple.  All have set a lot of fruit, so much that I have blossom drop on one of them.  Hopefully since I'm growing the plants up against a thick concrete wall they will find a way to ripen despite the onset of cool weather.  If I get the crop I'm hoping for, I'll get to make some oven-dried tomatoes and maybe even some salsa. Of course most of these heirloom beauties will just get eaten immediately.

My tomato jungle from above.
Black Krims ripening
Roasted Poblanos
The poblanos are here. I've started putting charred, peeled poblanos into the freezer as often as I can find them.  This will continue weekly for a while until I build up a supply that can be used this winter in poblanos rajas or corn soup with poblanos or scrambled eggs with poblanos  . . . you get the idea.  Of course due to their availability, we also regularly have rajas for dinner on Byron's homemade tortillas.  Soooooo good.

At this point in the season, my motivation to preserve much of anything is waning.  The summer fruit run is nearly over and with it my desire to capture those wonderful flavors.  Oh, but now that I think of it, I will need to do some pickled peppers with thyme and shallots and maybe come up with something to do with the two heads of cabbage I have staring back at me every time I open the fridge . . . 

What did you preserve this season?

21 September 2012

Roasted tomatoes with garlic and herbs

I've made tomato sauce in past years, but this year I wanted to try something different with the 25 pounds of plum tomatoes that I snagged at the farmers market -- something that would allow me to use the tomatoes to make sauce for lasagnes or chunky in pasta or added to soups. Although I can always used store-bought canned whole tomatoes, I like having something a little more special on hand.

I found this preparation -- it can hardly be called a recipe, actually -- in Tamara Murphy's cookbook, Tender.  Tamara's recipe calls for finishing the roasted tomatoes with a drizzle of balsamic.  I left that off the ones I froze, not knowing exactly how I'll want to use them.  For those that I used fresh that I did drizzle with balsamic vinegar, they were really nice and made a lovely dinner tossed with penne, veggie Italian sausages, and some good cheese.

Roasted tomatoes with garlic and herbs
adapted from Herb-roasted Tomatoes in Tender

plum tomatoes, washed and halved lengthwise
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
10 cloves of garlic, peeled
lots of sprigs of thyme and rosemary

Arrange the tomatoes, cut side up, on a baking tray.  Drizzle generously with the oil and add salt and pepper.  Sprinkle the cloves of garlic around the tray as well as a generous number of thyme sprigs and two or three small rosemary sprigs.  Bake in a preheated 450-degree oven for 20-30 minutes, until the tomatoes are tender but still retain their shape.  Cool and use or pop them into freezer bags and freeze immediately.

11 September 2012

Farmer appreciation

I spent much of last Sunday on a farm. Not just any farm, but the one that grows the food we eagerly await each week in our CSA box -- the one that I rave about from time to time.  The farm is in Rochester, Washington, about half-way between Seattle and Portland.

As CSA members, we had been invited to the farm's open house, so first thing Sunday we packed a picnic lunch and headed south.  We first stopped at Nisqually Wildlife Refuge -- a place we have enjoyed many times, but didn't see more than a couple bald eagles and a crane this time around.  Oh, and a very cool hawk that we have yet to identify. Gorgeous, cloudy-day walk though.

The two barns trail
The gravel was perfect for practicing throwing -- a popular activity these days.
After a picnic it was on to Helsing Junction Farm where we spent almost three hours wandering the fields and harvesting things we couldn't resist (of course, we had permission).  I came home with gorgeous rainbow chard, kale, fennel, and golden chiogga beets.  Oh, and flowers.

A picture taken by Wyatt of Byron harvesting chard.

We found ourselves face-to-face with some pretty cool sheep.  Or "peesh" as Wyatt has taken to calling them . . . we think it is basically the word sheep but backwards.  Whatever.  The sheep were Icelandic sheep, and their leader seemed to be a rather intimidating llama.

Anyway, there was lots of looking and pointing and laughing and no-no-no-ing when we moved on from there.  We caught the hay ride that was pulled behind the big old Kubota tractor and ate some freshly picked sweet corn.  We even shuffled our way into the middle of the corn field and picked a few ears to take home -- that's not something I have ever done before.  Pretty cool.

Back at the barn, the music, dogs, hot tamales, and items for sale kept us lurking around.  For a while, we sat on hay bales under a cloudy sky and ate chard tamales and chicken mole with rice in front of a very friendly dog.  After procuring a couple pounds of honey produced by none other than The Woogy Bee, we headed to the car and home.

I came home feeling grateful that we have farms (and farmers) like this so near to where we live.  Growing high quality organic food, especially 35 acres of it, is hard work -- and work that I truly appreciate.  I am grateful to Anna and Susan, the farmers who grow our food, and their employees for feeding us so well these past 13 weeks (with a few more to go) and also for inviting us to see the important work they do. 

03 September 2012


Labor Day weekend always means a change in direction.  From hot days to cooler days and nights.  From an abundant garden to a tired-looking one.  From swimming lessons to school buses.  No complaints here.  Summer to fall is a gorgeous time of year in the Northwest.

Nevertheless it wouldn't feel right to make this turn in the year without marking the last many weeks that have been so warm and also so full of people and things we love. 

: time :

: experience :

: growth :

: work : 

: savor :

: pause :